Cyclone Rake Blog

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Make New Memories at an Orchard

Nothing says fall fun like picking fruit at your local orchard. Here are some tips for making your annual visit even more of a success, or starting a new family tradition with your first visit to an orchard.

Apples, pears and Asian pears are all ripening this time of year. Since different varieties ripen at different times, find out what will be available by calling or checking the orchard’s online information. You’ll also find you can probably do more than just pick apples while you’re there. Many orchards will have a spot to spread out a picnic lunch and other activities for kids, like pumpkin patches, corn mazes and even petting zoos.

Most “U-Pick” orchards will provide some instructions for novice fruit harvesters. You’ll be looking for tree fruit that is well-sized and firm, but easily pulled from the tree. Here’s one tip for success: Obey the orchard’s guidelines for which trees to harvest. Although there may be some low-hanging fruit on trees nearby, those varieties may not yet be ripe. Let the orchard operator steer you toward the ripest fruit.

Picking apples is great fun; still, younger children (and some older ones) might lose interest. Consider picking a small amount of apples, perhaps a variety you can take home and turn into either a baked good or homemade applesauce. And be sure to head to the orchard with plenty of water and other supplies (sun gear, insect repellents) needed outdoors.

At home, savor the farm-fresh fare while reminiscing with your family about the trip you made to harvest and bring home your food. That will help you make the most of your orchard visit, create new memories and help your family learn where food comes from.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How to Win at Home Owning This Fall

For a majority of the country, the summer is unfortunately over. The good news is we are heading into everyone’s second favorite season, fall. According to a Gallop poll, 36% of Americans name spring as their favorite season of the year, while 27% prefer fall, with summer (25%) and winter (11%) slightly trailing. In the same survey, October ranks as the second most popular month behind May.
Now is the time to look forward to all the fun fall things to do like going to fairs, playing in the leaves and enjoying the cooling temperatures. However, the change in season brings about a long list of household chores that need to be done to prepare for winter. So before you fill up on too much lollipop fried bacon wrapped quail breast on a stick or edible cola (Bless the Texas State Fair), check out these ways to win at fall home ownership this year.
Have the Right Tools
Having the right tools handy can make any task easier, and trim the time it takes to do the job. Let’s face it, no one likes raking. A leaf blower is an amazing tool to have in your garage. It has many uses, but is really good for gathering leaves, especially if you have back problems.
Another great yard tool is a lawn and leaf vacuum such as the Cyclone Rake.
These tools, which hitch to a standard tractor or ZTR mower, allow you to clear large lawns of heavy debris and overgrown grass with ease. They reduce the work of an entire landscape crew down to something you can do yourself on a Saturday afternoon.
Upgrade Your Gutters
No one likes to clean gutters – it’s a dangerous and messy job, and often requires you to hire a professional. Gutter guards are a must have on your roof’s perimeter. The guards let water flow into the gutters while keeping debris out. They can be expensive if you have a large home and have them professionally installed, but they are worth the expense because you’ll never have to worry about them getting clogged, frozen, or breaking in the winter, and you will save on having them cleaned once (or more) each year.
There are three main types of gutter guards, depending on where you live, and what type of material you are trying to keep out of your gutters.

  •       Screens — the most common type of gutter guard, screens work well in situations where leaves are the main enemy. However, the openings in screens are large enough to let in seeds and pine needles, so they will require some maintenance over the years.
  •     Surface tension — with surface-tension gutter guards, water clings to the rounded nose of the guard and flows into the gutter, while leaves and other debris fall off over the edge. Surface-tension guards work very well with leaves and other large debris. Small debris sometimes gets in but usually washes out the downspouts without a problem.
  •        Fine mesh — fine-mesh guards function like screens, but they block all but the smallest debris. The tiny spaces in the mesh won’t clog with seeds and needles, but they can fill with small particles like shingle grit. Fine-mesh gutter guards still need an occasional cleaning, but unlike screens, fine mesh is easy to blow or brush clean.
Be sure to consult with a professional to see which type of gutter guard is best for your home and area of the country.
Prep Your Soil
Aerating or loosening the soil is best for your garden when done in the fall. During this time, you should clear away any of those pesky weeds that you've been battling all summer long. You can finally win and show those weeds who boss (at least until next year). Add mulched leaves or compost to add nutrients to your soil.
Plant Your Spring Flowers
Once you have prepped your soil, fall is the perfect time to plant bulbs such as lilies, daffodils and tulips. Be sure to do four to six weeks before the ground freezes.
To help keep squirrels and other pesky varmint away, put a mesh down and then cover with dirt. This will keep those hungry little critters from eating your flowers as their food sources start to run scarce. You can always offer them an alternative as well.
Fertilize Your Lawn
After you have cleared away all the leaves and other debris from your yard, fertilize your lawn before the ground freezes. Fertilizing in the early fall can help enrich your lawn's valuable nutrients before the winter. Make sure to pick a fertilizer rich with nitrogen, as it helps the grass to grow thick and green.
Windows and Doors
Check the weather stripping and seals on all of your windows and doors. Be sure to check the seal on your garage door as well.
Check Your Snow Blower
If you live in a portion of the country where it snows, now is the time to prep. Once the snow starts to fall, everyone who did not prepare will be rushing to buy a new one or get theirs fixed. Stores know this as well. You can even get some pretty good sales before the weather gets too cold.
Check Your Heating Units in Your Home
Inspect your heating unit before the weather gets too cold. No one likes to think about turning on the heat in shorts weather, but you don’t want to be without it when you need it most.
Change filters and make sure there is no debris blocking any of the vents. If you have a fireplace, be sure to have that inspected so it's ready for a snowy night.
Whether we like to admit it or not, fall is here. If you want to win at fall this year, don’t procrastinate on your to-do list.
Leaving decomposing leaves on your lawn for too long can kill your grass. Piles of leaves in your flowerbeds can encourage bugs to live in the soil, which could be harmful to your future plants. Make sure to vacuum or remove those throughout the season.

Doing these few things now will make spring time a lot more enjoyable. Maybe that is why it is ranked the top season? Starting early on your fall checklist list will give you more time to focus on eating those deep-fried Oreo burgers and drinking a smores beer, and let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot anyone is going to be able to do after that!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fall Garden Harvest

Summer sunshine may be past but your vegetable garden can still yield delicious, healthy produce through the fall. Follow these tips to pick the best harvest possible from your garden this autumn.

Grow Great Greens
Fall is a great season for growing greens – especially cold-tolerant lettuces, Swiss chard, spinach, kale and other dark leafy greens. Harvest leaf lettuces at four to six inches long, and they’ll keep for as long as two weeks in the refrigerator. Avoid letting chard and kale grow too large, which makes them tougher on the palate. In colder climates, try sowing greens in October for delicious baby greens or micro-greens; protect plants from the frost, and you’ll be able to harvest your own Thanksgiving salad!

Bank on Broccoli
Broccoli planted in late summer will yield a beautiful cool-season crops; home gardeners might find themselves harvesting fall broccoli heads a bit smaller than the typical six to seven-inch diameter. Enjoy fresh broccoli in any salad at your fall table.

Bet on Beets, Turnip
A late-planted fall beet crop doesn’t need to be harvested for beets; the greens can be harvested at 4 to 6 inches and pack a punch for fall fare. Dig fall-planted turnips and beets when they’re less than three inches in diameter; try roasting them with other fall vegetables or serving in preparations that complement their earthy flavor. And don’t forget radishes, the garden’s easiest fall-grown garnish; they can be planted as late as October for harvest in most zones.

Frost Helps Brussels Sprouts, Parsnips
Light frost improves the flavor of Brussels sprouts. Start picking individual sprouts from the base of the plant, as they grow firm, at about an inch in diameter. Harvest going up the plant, leaving lower leaves on the plant. Parsnip flavor is also improved by frost; parsnips insulated with straw can be left in the ground and harvested into winter.

Winter Squash Wonders
Nothing says fall garden bounty like winter squash (and, of course, pumpkins, which after all, are actually squashes). Use a knife to cleanly cut winter squash from the stem, when the squash surface is dull and hard. Leave about an inch on winter squashes like acorn, butternut and Hubbard. Pumpkins should be cut with about a 4-inch stem, or “handle.” Hubbard squash usually keep the longest, as much as six months, when stored in a cool place with good air circulation (don’t crowd the squash together). In the same storage, butternut will keep a couple months, or more, and acorn one or two months. Try roasting winter squash, perhaps alongside fall root crops like parsnips, for a nutritious and healthy dish. Or seek out a winter squash soup recipe – the squash shell might even be used as its own tureen!

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes grow best during the hot summer months; dig them throughout the fall for peak flavor. Be careful when digging; use smaller roots at your table immediately, as larger roots store better. Try roasting or microwaving sweet potatoes, and be sure to eat the skins – they’re packed with nutrients.

Don’t Forget Tomatoes
Finally, if your tomato plants are still bearing fruit at frost – all is not lost. Pick the green tomatoes and they’ll ripen if you keep them inside, between 55F and 70F, wrapped in newspaper or a brown paper bag. Then enjoy the ripened tomatoes as part of fall salads, appetizers and other fare.

If you didn’t find tips for picking your favorite fall crop here, try an online garden guide or a university extension publication like this one at Iowa State University:

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Get Your Garage Ready for Fall

Cooler nights and a little less humidity mean fall is almost in full swing. Bringing order to your garage can leave you more time to enjoy fall, one of the best times for lawn and garden upkeep.

Seasonal Switch
The CycloneRake folds to six inches maximizing garage space.
Make your leaf collection equipment more accessible in the garage: rakes, blowers, and leaf vacuums for lawnmowers and garden tractors. If you stored an aerator, seeder or fertilizer spreader in a tool shed or barn, put it back into your garage, or wherever it is handiest to access. You may want to move the garden tiller out of the way, too, unless you’re planning a fall garden cover crop or lawn reseeding.

Get Ready to Aerate
Aerating in the late summer or early fall is often recommended for cool-season lawns. Aeration allows more oxygen into the soil, reduces soil compaction, stimulates root growth and helps improve soil drainage. Tune up and move your aerator to an easily-accessible spot in the garage where it’s ready when you need it.

Sort Out Seed and Fertilizer
Fall is also prime time for fertilizing and seeding lawns, with the cooler weather promoting perennial root establishment. If you stored leftover grass seed out of the garage, away from summer’s heat, move the seed back, nearby the seeder or spreader. Move fertilizers to locations in the garage where they may be more accessible to you but still safely out of reach from children and pets.

While you’re at it, you’ll probably find an untidy corner or other area in your garage that could use some early fall attention. Those few minutes spent organizing now mean less hassle for later outdoor tasks, leaving you more time to enjoy the fall beauty.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Summer Lawn Care for a Hot Lawn

Your lawn may feel the heat as summer sets in, but don’t worry: Turf is tough. With some wise care, most lawns will soon rebound to their green glory. Here are some reminders for keeping lawns healthy through July and August.

Know Your Grass

Perennial turfgrasses are either cool-season or warm-season. Cool-season grasses – like fescue, Kentucky bluegrass and ryegrass – grow more vigorously in cooler months. Warm-season grasses – like bermudagrass and zoysiagrass – grow most during hotter months.

Knowing what kind of grass or grasses are in your lawn will help you know how to deal with the summer heat. Tall fescue lawns tend to be more heat tolerant than Kentucky bluegrass and red fescue, which take the heat better than perennial ryegrass.

So, if you don’t know already, find out what grasses are in your lawn. Knowing what you have growing will help you properly mow and water, if needed, this summer. Your local garden center or university extension office can help with plant identification. The Center for Turfgrass Management, at Penn State University, provides video descriptions of many major turfgrass species at its website:

Water Wise

One-inch to 1.5 inches of rain per week will sustain most turfgrasses in most zones. Heat and humidity can also affect the amount of water needed. So if it doesn’t rain, should you water the yard? For lawns recently seeded, the answer is probably yes; newer seedings are still developing root systems that will get the grass through future summers. Most guidelines advise watering deeply (1 to 1.5 inches) twice weekly.

If you water: Water in the morning to avoid a wet lawn overnight, which can promote disease. And early morning watering helps water soak into the sod before the day heats up.

Bear the Brown?

Watering may not be necessary, even during mild droughts; cool-season grasses will go dormant during periods of excess heat. Leaves will brown but the roots are likely still healthy, and the grass will usually green with fall rains and moderating temperatures. Tall fescue is known for being drought tolerant in this way; many Kentucky bluegrass varieties may brown during summer droughts of up to one month, then recover when rains begin.

That’s right – instead of watering the yard to keep it green all summer, consider letting nature run its course. Natural browning can even help control some yard pests, like grubs, in some areas.

Cut It High

And finally: Raise that mower deck. No matter how much the heat, the rule of thumb for turf health is to cut off no more than one-third the height of the grass. Ideal cutting heights vary according to variety, but many turfgrassses are healthiest when cut two to four inches.

Cutting a typical tall fescue yard higher during summer heat, say 3 to 3.5 inches, might even reduce the amount of summer mowing needed. Just be ready to return to more regular mowing when rains and cooler temperatures come, because proper summer care will help your yard return to all its green glory this fall.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Tasty Tomato Tips

A home vegetable garden produces a cornucopia of colorful, nutritious, ultra-fresh vegetables through the summer. Tomatoes are summer’s most popular vegetable, and here are some tips that can help both seasoned tomato growers and newbie gardeners pick the fullest flavors from your plants.

Avoid Blossom End Rot

This spring brought plenty of rain to most gardens. That might change this summer – especially if El Nino gives way to La Nina. And droughty conditions can bring on blossom end rot, one of the most common challenges of garden tomatoes.

Fortunately, blossom end rot can be avoided through maintaining proper soil and water conditions. First, be sure your soil pH is in the neutral range; for tomatoes, about a handful of ground limestone mixed into the soil at planting keeps most soils at the right pH. Second, avoid using high-nitrogen fertilizers, especially during plant growth. The plants might look beautiful – but too much nitrogen factors into blossom end rot. Third, keep your plants evenly and consistently watered through the summer. You may not be able to control the spring rains; careful summer watering will help keep blossom end rot at bay.

The controls for blossom end rot – proper soil fertility, appropriate fertilizer and consistent water – are all good to maintaining tomato plant health. Healthy plants are some of your best guards against pests and diseases.

Try a New Variety

Many gardeners rely on old favorites for tomatoes – plants grown from seeds they saved and started, or purchasing plants from the local farm market or garden center. Expand your tomato patch with later plantings or varieties that will mature later.

If you don’t have room in the garden for a new or later-maturing variety, try container-grown tomatoes on in full-sun garden bed or on a patio. This can be an easy way to keep cherry and grape tomatoes nearby your kitchen for easy pickings. Of course, there’s one danger: tomatoes on the patio might be picked and eaten before they ever make it inside!

Our NEW EarthBox Garden System is the easy way to get started! 
It includes everything to get you up and growing your tomatoes and other vegetables quickly and easily — just about anywhere. 

Disease resistance is another reason to try new varieties. Varieties that are resistant to blight, mildew and other common diseases of tomatoes can help move your plants to harvest and can also lessen the need for disease controls.

Out of the Refrigerator

You can keep whole tomatoes out of the refrigerator after harvest. In fact, tomatoes store best at room temperatures. For a list of storage tips for tomatoes and other vegetables, check out this free resource from the University of Maryland:

photo credit: veni, vidi, mangiai via photopin (license)
photo credit: Another basket of Happy Cat tomatoes via photopin (license)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Healthy Trees, Healthy Fruit

Fruit trees are moving past the time of danger from spring freezes. Now it’s up to you to coax the sweetest tastes from your fruit trees. Here are some keys to remember this spring toward a successful harvest this summer.

Soil Fertility

A common failing for keeping home fruit trees is applying the wrong amount of fertilizer – and applying fertilizer at the wrong time of year. Fertilizer is best applied before bud break. A rule of thumb is one-tenth of a pound of balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) for each year of tree age, up to 10 years. Iowa State University extension horticulturist Richard Jauron recommends limiting fertilizers to one pound for trees older than ten years.

Fertilizer should be spread in the tree’s root zone. Begin sprinkling fertilizer about two feet from the trunk, spreading it in a circular pattern, moving out to where rainwater would drip onto the ground from the farthest branches.

Critters and Weeds

Young trees are tasty to wildlife. A fence or other barrier can keep rodents, rabbits and deer from nibbling on or damaging your tree. Spiral trunk guards, made of white plastic, should be removed during the summer to prevent shelter for trunk-boring insects. Ripening fruit will attract birds and deer; it’s not too early to plan your fence, netting or bird scare strategy.

Mulch helps discourage weeds, but too much mulch around a fruit tree can actually hamper water penetration and attract rodents and insects. Some mulch, as it decomposes, may compete with the tree for soil nutrients. A good mulching strategy is to rely on a thin layer of compost, like decayed shredded leaves collected with a Cyclone Rake. Inorganic mulches (like plastic landscape fabric) may also be helpful, especially for younger trees; keep such materials tight to the ground to discourage pest penetration.

Insects and Diseases: Be Vigilant

To grow great fruit, you must keep an eye on your trees and their environment –whether or not you decide to use synthetic chemicals to control pests. Integrated pest management is the term professional fruit growers use to describe putting all available tools to work to produce quality fruit. That can range from trapping or picking off threatening insects to using chemical sprays for homeowners.

We found a fantastic, free online resource from The Ohio State University that describes good insect and disease control principles. It also links to many other resources. Good information can be obtained locally at garden centers and through master gardener groups and university extension offices.
Midwest Home Fruit Production Guide (The Ohio State University)

And of course, there’s always the wisdom from friends and neighbors nearby; great gardeners find joy in both growing delicious fruit and showing others how to grow their own.


Planting and Early Care of Fruit Trees (University of Maine)

Spring Care for Fruit Trees (Iowa State University)

photo credit: branch pattern, via photopin (license)